FOOD-STAPPI-TB

Nonalcoholic Stappi Red Bitter is refreshing just by itself over ice, or in a nonalcoholic or even low-proof cocktail.

I don’t know if my love affair with Stappi is because of the bitter edge to the sweet soda or because of its vibrant vermilion color and the super-cute little bottles.

Flavor is important in Italian culture, yes, but so is design. Stappi brings together both beautifully.

We’re talking about Stappi Red Bitter, one flavor in a line of Italian-made sodas that also includes rabarbaro (rhubarb), chinotto (another bitter flavor), gassosa (lemon), coffee, cedrata (citron), cola, tonic and orange. I discovered it a few years back at an Italian market, a six-pack sitting unassumingly in the refrigerator case, next to the apricot and pear nectars and sparkling waters. A sucker for Italian products, I carted it home.

And loved it. The bottle’s sloping neck, its diminutive size (holding just 100 milliliters, about 3.4 ounces, about a half-cup). The bright color. The bitter flavor, a taste we don’t expect in a soda, but Italians embrace. Slightly fizzy, and a bit viscous, it’s a refreshing nonalcoholic version of Italy’s aperitivo liqueurs, the most famous of which is Campari.

Though I’ve read plenty of comparisons to that famed drink, Stappi Red Bitter is not that. It doesn’t have the same flavor profile, nor the complexity. But it does fit into the pre-dinner drink niche. The fact that it’s alcohol-free gives it versatility. If you don’t drink or want to skip booze, it’s great on the rocks, or cut with some sparkling water to up the bubbly factor of the just slightly frizzante soda. As a base for a low-proof spritz, it stands in ably for Aperol and its kin. I like it with prosecco, at 2-to-1 Italian sparkler to Stappi.

Made in the small town of Sant’Elena Sannita in the eastern region of Molise, a few hours east of Rome, Stappi sodas claim a long history. The brand dates to the 1980s, but the company, Di Lorio, goes back to 1896 and claims it uses pure mineral water. Those facts are in case you like a little history with your drink.

You can buy Stappi at supermarketitaly.com.

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